Can Berbatov find a new consistency?



Shortly before Dimitar Berbatov scored five against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday a leading media outlet declared that Sir Alex Ferguson had given the Bulgarian striker six months to save his Manchester United career. It’s a claim open to ridicule when a player has scored five but perhaps not that far off the truth either.

After all, Berbatov has rarely found the consistency required of a United player in two and half years at Old Trafford. The burst on Saturday came after a run of 10 matches without a goal and some frustratingly brittle performances to boot.

Failure of consistency is an accusation that is levelled against both Berbatov’s output and his performances for the club. So brilliant he is often worth the Glazers’ inflated ticket prices one week. So frustratingly wasteful that neither manager nor fans can trust him the next.

In statistics supporters often find salvation. In 103 appearances for the club, the Bulgarian’s bare output is no embarrassment; 38 goals and 18 assists point to both a creator and finisher. Much as Ferguson had predicted when signing the player for more than £30 million in August 2008.

Indeed, as Berbatov scored seven goals in the opening six fixtures this season many observers ate their most critical words. Berbatov finally married consistent goalscoring to his undoubted artistry. Ten games, no goals and an overwhelming sense of frustration later and Berbatov’s opening six weeks seemed an exception to prove a rule.

The 29-year-old striker’s tendency to disappear from games when he is not in prime form came to fore once again in the past two months, just as it had last season. Just 12 goals last term led to Ferguson regularly leaving out his record signing. The Scot did the same last weekend, ignominiously leaving Berbatov out of his matchday 18 against Wigan Athletic.

It leaves supporters wondering whether Berbatov can ever find the consistency expected of a £30 million player. Indeed, Berbatov expressed relief after the performance against Blackburn, with five goals signaling the end of a ‘worrying’ period for the Bulgarian star.

“In the end I’m pleased with the performance and the goals I scored, personally I was very impressed with myself,” said Berbatov.

“I’ve scored five before but it was a long time ago back home. To do it in the Premier League when only four other players have done it, to stand next to Shearer and Andy Cole is a great honour.”

“I was a little bit worried. When you are a striker people tend to only look at the goals you score.”

But if goals are the currency, then Berbatov comes up short at the highest level. In matches against other members of the traditional ‘big four’ the Bulgarian has scored just five in 14 games for United. Three of those came against Liverpool this season. The  record is little better against other contenders. He has two in seven matches against former club Tottenham Hotspur and none in five games against Manchester City.

In the Champions League the striker has just four in 18 games, these coming against the lesser lights of Aalboug and Celtic. For a creative player, Berbatov is credited with just one assist in those 18 fixtures.

None of which, of course, makes for comfortable reading for the striker, who on that evidence is little more than a flat-track bully, despite topping this season’s Premier League scoring charts with 11.

Sam Allardyce, whose team suffered at Berbatov’s feet on Saturday, moved to defend the 29-year-old striker against his many critics.

“Dimitar has a laid-back style,” Allardyce said.

“You have to understand the intelligence of Berbatov, how he finds spaces in tight areas, how rarely his touch deserts him, how he looks slow but is actually far quicker.

“It takes time to settle in and play for Manchester United. Just because you cost £30 million it doesn’t mean you are going to be an instant success, you still have to get used to playing for Manchester United and the pressure of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.”

That Allardyce should feel the need to speak out on Berbatov’s behalf speaks loudly. Indeed, eight of the striker’s goals this season have come in two games, which is a pointer to the overwhelming frustration with a player whose outstanding ability should bring so much more consistency.

There should be no debate; technically, Berbatov has few limits. His talent deserves all the personal and team accolades possible.

Mentally though, questions remain. Will the Bulgarian follow Saturday’s quintet with goals in the coming weeks, including matches against Chelsea and Arsenal in December? History suggests it unlikely and with Rooney now fit, there’s no guarantee Ferguson will even select the Bulgarian for United’s biggest games.

That is Berbatov’s legacy and it is so much less than it could be. There is time though, with the player contracted to United until June 2012 and talks over a new contract still possible before next summer.

Berbatov’s talent could yet bring a 25 goal season though. Supporters, team and most of all Berbatov himself deserve that level of consistency.

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Comments

  1. I think the next month will define berba’s future at united, with Chelsea and arsenal to come in back to back matches this will be a test of his consistency and SAF’s faith in him..

  2. Yes, I was going to start a thread about whether United should play 442 in the coming ‘big’ fixtures.

    Rooney and Berba looked like they are finally reading each other, linking well and not filling the same space. After United play Blackpool in the league, we face Arsenal at home and Chelsea away. Given that both teams have shown vulnerability when attacked – by Spurs and Sunderland respectively – do you think Fergie will play 442?

    Of course we all know that it’s been the averageness of the midfield as much as Berba’s erratic form that has convinced Fergie to play 451/433 in the big games in 2010, but will he be tempted with 442 this time? If Roo and Berba continue to look dangerous, I think we should go for it. If we’re overrun, we could always revert to 451 with Rooney on the left during the game. Then again, Ramires and Zhirkov are a different proposition to Essien and Lampard.

  3. What is with this obsession with the 10 games, he did not score? I seem to remember him not playing well only in two of those, which is probably as good of record as any other United player except for Vidic and Nani

    Torres recently went 6 games without scoring, Drogba and Anelka are currently on respectively 6 and 5 games without scoring! And of course there is Wayne, who has scored only penalties in the last 14 or so games for the club. Not everyone has Messi and Ronaldo’s consistency. Unfortunately the only consistent top striker in England at the moment is Teves.

  4. As for Berba, I don’t think he’ll convince people until he has a match winning performance in a crucial, important game. Which obviously Blackburn and Liverpool 2010 are not.

    I get the feeling that 2010-11 is going to be Berba’s season – he’s going to score some vital goals and finally win over the United fans – that’s if he gets the chance in the big games!

  5. Alfonso Bedoya Alfonso Bedoya says:

    The whole 4-4-2/4-3-3/4-5-1 debate hinges on the strength of the midfield, not Berbs or Rooney… if we’re relying on Scholes for our creativity, then he needs 2 hod carriers to support him… if we don’t play Scholes then our midfield lacks attacking direction…

    Carrick and Anderson were excellent on Saturday… but they’ve been just as inconsistent as Berbatov… and the defense also has to pull its weight… no more poor displays that turned comfortable wins into draws, and give Ferguson more confidence that they don’t need more than normal protection… that’s the real dilema… the whole team needs to hold it’s own or Ferguson makes sacrifices starting at the front, to shore up deficiencies behind.

  6. Dead right, Don Alfonso. On Saurday the whole unit played well. Park is a crap winger; if he is picked you have got to trust him & give him a free role. I think you are being a tad harsh on Anderson, his season has been very disrupted. He has a lot to prove, but there is an excellent player hidden in there; he could give us the vim, pace on the break & enthusiasm we have been missing. Both Anderson & Scholes (& Fletcher for Park?) give us reasonable defensive cover & pressure on the ball. In many ways Nani & particularly Raphael were the stand out players; thse two could develop into a real threat, in tandem, on the right.

  7. Interesting stat in the Guardian today: of all Berbatov’s league goals for United, 15.6% of them came in the Blackburn game. Put’s his lack of goals right into perspective.

  8. Lets hope he has turned the corner and it’s not just another false dawn.

  9. if he scores even once in the next 3 games, i would be v surprised…obviously i want him to score every game, but he is just so frustrating to me – so much bloody skill but more often than not, the end product deserts him

  10. Alfonso Bedoya said:
    The whole 4-4-2/4-3-3/4-5-1 debate hinges on the strength of the midfield, not Berbs or Rooney… if we’re relying on Scholes for our creativity, then he needs 2 hod carriers to support him… if we don’t play Scholes then our midfield lacks attacking direction…

    Carrick and Anderson were excellent on Saturday… but they’ve been just as inconsistent as Berbatov… and the defense also has to pull its weight… no more poor displays that turned comfortable wins into draws, and give Ferguson more confidence that they don’t need more than normal protection… that’s the real dilema… the whole team needs to hold it’s own or Ferguson makes sacrifices starting at the front, to shore up deficiencies behind.

    Carrick’s been very good recently, since at least the City game. Anderson and Berba’s performances just go to show what a difference it makes if some of our expensive recent signings actually deliver the goods (Ando, Berba, Hargo etc.). It was around this time last season, or even later, that Nani started coming good, and I think Anderson is a good two years younger, he’s only 22 and has had a lot of injuries.

    Looking at the Guardian’s chalkboards, Rooney basically played like a very attack-minded midfielder. He actually had the most passes in the game, over a 100, even more than Anderson and Carrick. When you look at things that way, it makes all the talk of 4-4-2 vs. 4-5-1 look too simplistic. Although Rooney was brilliant last season, I reckon the best for us would be if he and Berba established a good dynamic, and Rooney continued to be a sort of half forward/half midfielder, which makes him hard to handle for the opposition, but doesn’t leave us too light against strong 3-player midfields. Maybe…

    • Hmm. I personally think Berba is better suited to that role, dropping in, linking play, keeping possession. It frees Rooney up to run the channels and drag defences apart with his power. We need that ability to stretch opposition. Berba doesn’t do it, and that means everyone behind him is operating in a far more congested space.

      I think last night’s Clasico was a case in point. Barca dragged Madrid all over the place with pace up top and out wide.

  11. Danillaco says:

    Not to mention we can play Rooney and Berba at a 433. Rooney drops to the wing along with Nani and Berba up top. If we had a strong pair in the midfield, and consistent like a Carrick/Anderson against Blackburn (Keano/Scholes is what comes to mind), we would be the most effective 442 in the world, and able to face any team there is.

    I like the width of the 442, and we use it really well, but we need two players who can hold the middle without leaving our defense exposed as we saw over and over agains this season.

    Berba can always play, the only thing that stopped him from getting into the pitch was himself.

  12. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    when it comes to the crunch he’ll be dropped, rightly, rooneys still brilliant without him, berbatov didn’t score once with rooney out, drop him for the crunch then sell him in the summer, no time for luxury overpriced happy day shitehouses who only turn up when the likes of rooney and nani are there to do everything

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